[media-credit id=13 align=”alignnone” width=”300″][/media-credit]As winds raged outside, Riley Bergseng waited in his Salt Lake City apartment to see if Weber State University officials would cancel Thursday-morning classes.
An hour later — at about 7:30 a.m. — Bergseng said he was traveling north on I-15 in Centerville toward WSU, when the passenger side of his vehicle was struck by a large piece of debris he thought was a sign. It ripped off the passenger side door handle of his 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee and shattered his windshield.
“It sounded like a grenade went off. Just boom! It scared the living crap out of me,” Bergseng said. “They should have canceled school. Ugh.”
He pulled over to the shoulder of the interstate and collected himself before taking the next exit and parking at a Chevron gas station.
“I almost died because they didn’t cancel school,” Bergseng said. “I almost lost my life by getting hit by a big, stupid sign.”
WSU administrators did tell students via Code Purple to stay inside shortly after 9 a.m. and canceled classes a little more than an hour later. Norm Tarbox, vice president of administrative services, said administrators didn’t cancel classes at 6 a.m. — the latest hour they usually will cancel classes — because forecasts didn’t predict winds would be so intense and sustained.
“At 6 o’clock, things are not bad,” Tarbox said. “The weather reports are saying, ‘Ya you’re going to get some wind, it’s going to be really intense for an hour or so but by 8 a.m., it ought to calm down and be OK.’”
Tarbox said they don’t like to cancel classes after the 6 a.m. threshold because some students may have begun their commute and must be assured their classes will be held.
“If we get by that 6 a.m. threshold and we haven’t canceled classes or closed campus, then we have committed to having the campus open and to holding classes,” Tarbox said.
Even so, Bergseng said it’s better to be safe than sorry, and that classes can be rescheduled or work made up if needed, especially when so many students commute from afar.
“Is it worth it?” Bergseng asked. “Cancel a day and we can reschedule.”
WSU did break from its policy — which is to remain open throughout the day if it doesn’t close by 6 a.m. — when wind gusts continued well after 8 a.m. and updated forecasts predicted a longer period of severe wind.
“There was some hope that we could salvage the day,” Tarbox said. “It just turned out that as it kept getting worse and worse and worse, sometimes you have to vary from your procedure.”
He also said there were compelling reasons not to cancel such as tests and final lectures. He said WSU will review its response to the windstorm, but wasn’t sure if it would change any procedures.
“We need to debrief,” Tarbox said, “there’s no doubt about it, and try to identify lessons learned.”